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RE: Installation of software, and security. . .
From: <Glenn.Everhart () chase com>
Date: Wed, 20 Jul 2005 09:02:55 -0400

Trojans embedded in installation scripts have been a problem in commercial
space for many years, despite risk of exposure. I can recall a DBMS that
installed its basic relational engine to run at elevated priority relative
to everything else on the box, apparently in order to make itself look better, 
particularly in side by side tests with competitors. I can recall also various
instances of commercial products adding backdoor accounts "for maintenance" without
so much as a by-your-leave, and more. The more obscure the installation script,
the greater the temptation to some outfits to put in functionality for their own
convenience or advantage. Of course, with spyware now not blushing to add keystroke
monitors and backdoors, simple jiggering with priorities sounds very tame indeed.

The platform features to find out about this are still that there need to be ways
to get install scripts to report what they would do, in detail, rather than
actually altering anything on the box, and to unhide operations that otherwise
might be kept quiet. Ideally this should be possible at any time to the box owner,
regardless of the wishes of the installer, and there ought to be a further option
to create a detailed log. The other necessary thing to get rid of such behavior by
anyone is that disclosure of what is going on should be protected from legal
challenge (so long as it is truthful) and should be paid attention to by the buying

It is simply not true that commercial vendors are always clean here; even very 
large ones have sometimes strayed into underhanded behavior for many years.
That almost nobody tries to (or even can) examine install operations before
turning them loose just makes matters worse.

Glenn Everhart

-----Original Message-----
From: Jason Coombs [mailto:jasonc () science org]
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2005 1:16 PM
To: Tim Nelson
Cc: John Richard Moser; Klaus Schwenk; bugtraq () securityfocus com
Subject: Re: Installation of software, and security. . .

Tim Nelson wrote:
On Sun, 17 Jul 2005, John Richard Moser wrote:
Yes, you hit the nail on the head with a jackhammer.  One discussion on
autopackage was that the devs don't want to limit the API and thus want
the prepare, install, and uninstall to be a bash script supplied by the
package "so it can do anything."  I hate this logic.  Why does it need
to be able to do "anything"?

    I think you're both right :).  I agree that packages need to be able > to do anything, but it'd be nice if we 
could try to eliminate the pre 
and post install scripts.

Developers think that installers need to be able to do anything because 
the developers think of themselves as being trustworthy. The code 
written for an installer doesn't do anything harmful and it can be 
trusted, so why should it not have the ability to do anything that the 
developer decides it needs to do?

All malicious attacks originate from the hands and minds of other 
people, malicious people, therefore a typical developer cannot see any 
harm in their own way of thinking or in their own installer. Even those 
developers who perceive an unacceptable risk or intrinsic flaw in the 
way that these things get built and deployed have a very hard time 
seeing themselves as responsible for the harm caused by others.

The truth is that people who expressly allow systems that are harmful to 
continue to exist can be held responsible for the damage that those 
systems cause, regardless of the fact that the malicious actor who 
initiates the specific harm in each instance is somebody else entirely.

See: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.

Thus, if you are a developer and you deploy software without giving 
serious thought to the things that you could do to make the entire 
process of software distribution and installation safer for everyone, 
then you are part of the problem.

Hopefully everyone can now see that applying digital signatures to code 
is a pointless exercise in somebody else's arbitrary business strategy 
(i.e. VeriSign and other purveyors of so-called 'federated identity 
solutions') and is not being used today as a means of achieving improved 
information security. A very sad state of affairs, given that signed 
code at least attempts to address these issues of security during the 
software installation/distribution process, albeit today's 
implementations as a rule are very poorly-conceived.

We would all receive vastly-improved installation security if every 
software vendor would adopt a standard for code/data/installer 
authentication (that does not require digital signatures but that could 
optionally use them) based on a keyed hash algorithm and a low-cost 
specialized electronic device that sits on the desktop or in the server 
room alongside the box to which software is deployed and is used to 
verify hashes and explain forensically what the installer intends to do 
to configure the box and deploy the code and data to it.

Of course that's just the ideal improvement, which I personally believe 
the industry could even train end-users to understand and use. 
Particularly if the proposed device were to generate an installation key 
that the user would be required to enter in order to install the 
software. (Sure, greedy people would try to use this to increase license 
revenue or improve controls over intellectual property and copyright; 
they will just have to be fought back by those who understand that the 
point is security not personal enrichment.)

Short of the ideal stand-alone embedded system this concept could also 
be built as software-only. Does anyone care? Will anyone ever build it?


Jason Coombs
jasonc () science org

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